Classic Funeral Hymn: "It Is Well with My Soul"

Horatio Spafford
Horatio Spafford

By Amy Cunningham

Obviously, the funeral for an elderly person who lived a productive life is different from the service for a young one taken too early, but when a period of suffering was endured before death, there is often, as you know, a sense of relief at the service that can be supported with the right music. "It is Well With My Soul" is one Christian hymn that expresses faith in God and peace with loss. It's a predictably terrific number for the funerals or memorial services of people who were ready to die.

This blockbuster, which you'll probably recognize as soon as you hear it, was written in the late 1800s by a man named Horatio Spafford who'd lost almost everything dear to him. The melody is by Philip Bliss, and said to be his best. I feel that hymns like this one can be adapted and edited to fit the beliefs of any family.

So I spent a good three hours listening to dozens of versions of "It is Well With My Soul" (also called "When Peace Like a River") on YouTube.com. From Mahalia Jackson to Alison Krauss, I enjoyed every moment, and will present here versions helpful to you in thinking out how many different ways this historic hymn could be performed in your locality. Here is a straightforward version sung by Jodi Campbell with scrolling lyrics, good for starters. Here's the excellent B4 Quartet's interpretation. Ashley Carver performed "It is Well" on the violin at the graveside service for Rebecca Dumapias Paular as pall bearers approached the grave with the casket. Want it big? Here's the Chancel Choir and the Sanctuary Orchestra. And finally, here is my pick for the funeral music connoisseur: Marion Williams singing "It is Well With My Soul" in 1962 at the first gospel concert ever performed in the Netherlands. With your own local talent, you'll come up with your own transporting version.

Opening lyrics:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain: It is well, with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul.